Expensive Washington state senate race: A Sikh vs. a Christian and no one's covering that


In terms of political leanings, the West Coast is a wall of blue, but there’s still a stubborn cadre of Republicans controlling the Washington state legislature, much to the disgust of Democrats.

So, right now there’s a huge fight for a single state Senate seat with two Asian-American women duking it out for the coveted position in Washington’s 45th District, which houses behemoths like Microsoft and other tech businesses that have turned Seattle’s Eastside into a mini-Silicon Valley.

I used to live in that district years ago and currently live in an adjoining district, so naturally I was interested in reading about this race. Yes, there is an interesting religion angle to this story. The issue is whether anyone wants to cover it.

High Country News’ latest edition explains what’s at stake:

Campaign donations are pouring in for a Washington state Senate seat contest because the outcome likely will determine whether Democrats or Republicans control the chamber. Oil companies have written $100,000 checks for political action committees running ads against the Democratic candidate, Manka Dhingra, and in support of Republican Jinyoung Lee Englund. A pair of billionaires who want action on climate change, Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer, each gave $125,000 to political action committees funding ad campaigns against Englund, and supporting Dhingra.
When all is said and done, $8 million dollars likely will have been spent on this state legislative race, political consultants predict. That’s more than triple the amount ever spent on any other Washington state legislative race and more than has ever been spent on any U.S. Congressional race in the state.

Dhingra and her family are pictured above this blog post. Englund is the person with the black-and-white-checked blouse. Elsewhere I read this could be the “costliest state primary in history,” so my ears perked up.

What’s interesting are the religious professions of the two women involved. One is a Sikh American who, if elected, would be the nation’s first Sikh woman to be in a state legislature. The other once worked for an overseas charity affiliated with Pentecostal healing evangelist Heidi Baker.

Few of the publications I scanned were interested in an religion “ghosts;” that is, religion angles hidden in ordinary news articles. A Los Angeles Times piece in June described hate crimes against Sikhs, who are constantly mistaken for Muslims because of the turbans male Sikhs wear. There are some 500,000 Sikhs in America, according to a helpful guide for reporters provided by the Sikh-American Coalition.

 So I had to turn to ethnic newspapers to get more information. The News India Times said this:

“Quite likely, this is the most consequential political race for the Sikh-American community since Dilip Singh Saund was first elected 60 years ago,” said Varun Nikore, president of the Asian American and Pacific Islander Victory Fund, who also said that Dhingra’s victory was “symbolic and significant,” especially at a time when hate crimes are increasing since the presidential election.
“The entire West Coast from California to Oregon to Washington State will be a wall of blue.
The significance of this race for our community and the nation cannot be understated,” he said.

India Abroad was more open about the candidate’s Sikh identity.

More than $3 million was poured into the Aug. 1 race by both campaigns and Super PACs and both candidates are to square off again in the general election in November. It is estimated that more than $10 million would likely pour in, shattering all records, particularly since the result would determine the balance of power in the legislature.
(In the state legislature) Democrats hold the governorship and the House, but the GOP is in control of the Senate by just one seat. A Dhingra victory in November would help the Democrats recapture control of the State Senate.
Nikore said the fact that both Saund and Manka are Sikhs is “symbolic and significant,” especially at a time when incidents of hate violence have been increasing since the presidential election.
“I’m hopeful that having a legislator of this background could serve as a calming influence,” Nikore said.
In the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Dhingra served on the Seattle Police Department’s Muslim, Arab and Sikh Advisory Council to address hate crime issues in the region, particularly when these groups and others were being targeted.

It appears that Dhingra’s campaign is rallying more of the local Indian-American community than Englund’s campaign is turning out its volunteers. And that Dhingra sees some benefit in emphasizing her identity as a Sikh whereas Englund has carefully hidden all references to whatever church she attends in or near Woodinville, where she lives. 

Dhingra is favored to win, so I'm curious as to what of her theology she'll bring to the table.

Meanwhile, I wish local writers had researched the religion angle, which would have made this a vastly superior story. In a town crawling with immigrants, that should not have been hard at all. 

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